There’s nothing quite like joining the locals in one of their favorite pastimes as a way of breaking the ice and learning more about a local culture. And when it comes to pastimes, what can be more fun than playing the locals at their own game. From chess to poker, here are some of the most popular local games around the world.
India – Carrom
Take a walk down the street anywhere in India and sooner or later you’ll come across a group of locals sitting around a table sipping chai and getting extremely excited about a board game. The game is known as carrom and it’s the most popular game in India.
The game is a little like snooker or pool on a tiny table, except the balls are small disks and the cue is your finger. It’s a game of skill as each player tries to get their own disks, known as carrom men, into the corner pockets before their opponent does the same with theirs. It’s lots of fun and the locals will be only too happy to let you join in and have a go.
China – Chinese Poker
Chinese poker can be quite confusing at first, so it’s essential that you learn everything about the game and its rules before you try to play. Don’t assume that because you can play poker you can wing it at Chinese poker, because here’s the thing – you can’t. It’s very different from the likes of Texas Hold’em or Omaha hi-lo.
The main difference is that there is a huge element of luck involved in Chinese poker and so a beginner (that’s you) can easily beat an old hand at the game. But like we said, it’s not that easy to win consistently. But hey, you might be lucky!
Taiwan – Mahjong
Mahjong is a Chinese game that was brought to Taiwan by the early Chinese settlers. It’s now something of a national pastime and every household in the country has a mahjong set and possibly even a table for games. It’s not too difficult to pick up as the rules are quite simple. Each player gets a row of tiles and they must make matching pairs and sets to win the match.
The problem for non-locals is recognizing the symbols on the tiles. Some are in traditional Chinese while others are symbols or pictures that you just need to remember. When the game picks up speed, as it always does, you can sometimes miss a tile that you need to win the game simply because you fail to recognize the symbol quick enough.
Ireland – 25
We could have gone with hurling here, but playing the world’s fastest ball sport played on a field is not something a novice can even imagine doing. So instead we went with the card game of 25. This is one of the most popular card games in rural Ireland and is particularly popular with the older generations. In fact, many see the game as the perfect opportunity to socialize, so if you’re interested in meeting some lovely older locals that enjoy a chat, then this is ideal.
25 is a trick game where the aim is to win at least three tricks and sweep the pool. If that’s not working out for you then you can try to stop others from doing so. Spoil their efforts successfully and the betting pool is larger for the next round. It’s a relatively simple game to pick up and, if you look around, you’ll find some local games where all are welcome to join in.
France – Pétanque
Throwing metal balls around a park sounds like something that might get you into trouble with the police but in France it’s par for the course on a sunny afternoon. Pétanque is a game that involves throwing your boules at a jack (cochonnet). The person who gets theirs closest is the winner.
Sounds easy enough, and in a way it is. Having said that, if you come up against one of the seasoned locals who play the game week in week out, you may be in for a shock. These guys are masters at the game and will easily smack your ball away from the jack after you think you’ve made a game-winning throw.
Hungary – Chess
If you play already, then you’ll likely know that chess is Hungary’s national game. You can’t go anywhere in the country without seeing a chess board. Seriously, head for the famous public baths in Budapest and you’ll even see people playing while relaxing in the water.
Suffice to say that if you want a good way to get in with the locals, then a game of chess is a safe bet. Bring you’re A-game and you might even make a few friends for life.
Brazil – Soccer
Well, actually we’re talking more about beach soccer. Head for any of Brazil’s incredible beaches and you’ll find a game going on or at the very least a few people playing headers. As you are well aware, soccer is a bit of a thing in Brazil so if you’re into the game then a beach holiday here is nothing short of heaven.
We will warn you about one thing. In Brazil, everyone knows how to kick and control a ball, so if you’re playing a game with the locals be sure to let them know if your skills are below par. They’ll laugh it off and play with you anyways, but you may just spend a little more time on your backside than you do your feet as the locals run rings around you.
So the next time you’re traveling to one of these locations, try to get involved in a local game. It could be the most enjoyable experience of your entire holiday. And better yet, you’ll make some great local friends who will give you some advice on seeing the best spots in the area.